The Ravens' top decision makers will meet later this week at owner Steve Bisciotti's Florida home and the team's struggling offense will surely dominate the conversation.
But the focus, according to Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome, will be on adding to an offense that ranked 29th in the NFL this year, not overhauling it.
"When you have a short window of failure that comes out of the blue, the key is not to make wholesale changes," Bisciotti said Wednesday at the annual State of the Ravens address at the Under Armour Performance Center. "To find yourself in the bottom five in offense in almost every category is again something that — had we not had a [good] history in the last five years — I would probably demand wholesale changes.
"But, I think you have to be careful to not to look in a vacuum and throw out the baby with the bathwater, and [you] let people get healthy, let these guys work together for another year [and] add some people to the team in the draft and free agency."
Bisciotti and Newsome reiterated their confidence in quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice, who they expect to have bounce-back years. And while offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell engages in head-coaching interviews elsewhere, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh confirmed that much-maligned run coordinator Juan Castillo will remain on his staff for next season, albeit with a new title as the offensive line coach.
Castillo's status was tenuous after the Ravens finished 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (83.0) and last in yards per carry (3.1). Their 1,328 rushing yards on the season set a franchise low.
"Juan will be the offensive line coach next year," Harbaugh said. "The rest of it is a little bit in flux right now."
Harbaugh said that he understood why Castillo, who joined the team before last year's Super Bowl as a consultant and then was named the run game coordinator before the season, has been such a "lightning rod" for criticism. Harbaugh blamed himself for giving Castillo the title of run game coordinator while Andy Moeller stayed on as the offensive line coach, and Todd Washington assisted the two.
"Juan functioned as the lead offensive line coach last year," Harbaugh said. "That was his job. The title was a way to have three great offensive line coaches in our mix right there [but] we didn't get the results we wanted to get."
What isn't clear is what becomes of Moeller, who has been on Harbaugh's staff the previous three years. The Ravens parted ways with running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery last week and team officials haven't dismissed the idea that there will be further changes. There has also been no declaration that Caldwell will be back for a second full season as offensive coordinator if he doesn't land a head-coaching job. Caldwell has already interviewed for the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins' vacancies and he spent Wednesday in Tennessee meeting with Titans' officials.
Bisciotti said he'll talk more to Harbaugh about the coaching staff this weekend in Florida, but he won't demand any changes.
"I never demand," he said. "I do suggest, but right now, I haven't suggested to John to revamp his coaching staff."
Beyond that, the team's brain trust will spend significant time in the days ahead trying to figure out how to re-sign several key offensive free agents, including starting left tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta. Newsome said that the Ravens will prioritize getting bigger along the interior of the offensive line as left guard A.Q. Shipley, who started for much of the season after a season-ending back injury to Kelechi Osemele, center Gino Gradkowski and right guard Marshal Yanda are all considered undersized for their positions. Penetration up the middle affected Flacco and the run game all season.
Newsome also vowed to get Flacco another target who can get open on third down and create yards after the catch. Flacco threw a franchise-record 23 interceptions this season and struggled to connect on the deep ball and in the red zone.
"Is it going to be bringing in some additional talent? Probably, yes," Newsome said. "Is it going to be expecting some of our guys to develop and get better? We will need that, too."
But to Newsome, it has to start with having a more reliable running game. He said that he met with Rice last week and Newsome predicted the diminutive back will return to his three-time Pro Bowl form. Rice is coming off the most disappointing season of his career, ranking 30th in the NFL with 660 rushing yards.
Second-year back Bernard Pierce also struggled, though both he and Rice were limited by injuries.
"Especially in the AFC North with the type of defenses that you face, you have to have the ability to run the football," Newsome said. "Everybody understands that in 2014, we will do everything we can to be a better run team, because it will make us a better football team."
Harbaugh said that he exchanged text messages with several players during the first-round playoff games last weekend and their disappointment of being home for the postseason came through.
"Our players are more motivated than ever," Harbaugh said. "It's just not acceptable."
Bisciotti wouldn't argue that point, but he wasn't ready to demand changes, either. In past state of Ravens' addresses, he had challenged players or coaches. He admitted that he can be a "little bit of a loose cannon." But there was none of that Wednesday as Bisciotti had already started to move on from this season's disappointment with both excitement and optimism.
"I think it's fair to say it's a failure because our goal is to be one of the top 12," he said. "There are bigger failures out there. There are teams that are a whole lot more disappointed. If we found ourselves at 3-13, like the Falcons, then I think they're sitting there thinking, 'We've got to make a lot of changes.' I really don't think that we do. If 8-8 is a failure, I hope it's a long time before I feel worse than this."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun